In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column I look at the long career of Horton Foote, who struggled in obscurity for decades before establishing himself as a major playwright. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
Horton Foote’s “The Traveling Lady” opened on Broadway in October of 1954 and closed three weeks later. Forty-three years later, “The Young Man from Atlanta” made it to Broadway after having had a solid off-Broadway run and won the Pulitzer Prize. In between…nothing. Not only were none of Foote’s three dozen other plays produced on Broadway during that time, but none of them received major productions anywhere in America between 1954 and 1984. Yet by the time he died in 2009 at the august age of 92, he was recognized as one of this country’s greatest playwrights, and today everyone in the world of theater knows and esteems his work.
Last September, Marion Castleberry, a professor of theater arts at Baylor University, brought out “Blessed Assurance: The Life and Art of Horton Foote,” a richly comprehending biography that tells you everything you need to know about the author of “The Trip to Bountiful,” the 1952 play that first brought Foote’s name to the attention of the general public. But because “Blessed Assurance” was brought out by Georgia’s Mercer University Press, not a New York-based trade publisher, it failed to receive the recognition it deserved. As a result, few of Foote’s admirers know of its existence, much less that it answers a question that had long puzzled me: How did he stay afloat during the long, cruelly demoralizing years of obscurity? What kept him at work day after day, writing the plays that would secure his reputation as a great dramatic artist?
The answer is that Foote, for all his oft-remarked gentleness of manner, was an extraordinarily determined man who persisted in believing in his own talent when everyone else doubted it….
* * *
Read the whole thing here.
A rare kinescope of the Studio One version of Horton Foote’s The Traveling Lady, starring Kim Stanley, directed by Robert Mulligan, and telecast on CBS in 1957: